Battle for a home semi

2008-05-01 00:00

Sharks coach Dick Muir has opted for size and experience in the pack as his side take on the form team in this year’s Vodacom Super 14, the Crusaders, at AMI Park in Christchurch in their final overseas match.

The good news is that captain Johann Muller came through yesterday’s final practice ahead of the match without any discomfort and will lead the team at lock.

This evening’s game is going to be the match of the weekend and could go a long way in determining the Sharks’ fate. It is certain to be a tester for both sets of forwards.

All season — including the pre-season — the focus and goal was on securing a home semi-final. Eight matches into the season and it appeared that their planning, preparation and execution were all on track, until the bumpy road that was the Brumbies and Waratahs losses.

The Sharks find themselves in third place and, with three matches remaining before the play-offs, in a must-win situation.

The fact that they veered off track in the last two weeks does not translate to writing them off.

Crusaders Captain Richie McCaw believes that the Sharks deserve a lot of respect. "Traditionally in the last few years there have been some tough matches between the two sides. I didn’t play them last year, but the last three games I played, we nearly came second both times at home and we did come second in Durban the last time I was there, and last year as well.

"For us they are right up there. They’re a team that traditionally home and away are tough to beat and a game you always look forward to. They certainly turn up when they play us."

Despite having lost their last two games, the Crusaders expect the Sharks to be up for the match, and with the pressure they have placed upon themselves, the Sharks need to end the tour on a high note. There is also the prospect of losing a home semi-final and possibly having to return to New Zealand for the play-offs.

"They’re a very good side, we’re expecting them to be back at their best this weekend," admits McCaw.

"They’re about to go home and won’t want to be travelling back here, so they will be pretty keen to get it right."

Coach Robbie Deans is in agreement. "The Sharks won’t be excited about their recent outcomes, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are a very good side. If you look at their circumstances, this is the last game before they head home and they won’t want to cross the ocean again, so this game is very important for them, we’re expecting the best from them."

The Crusaders, like the Sharks, boast a formidable pack and both sets of forwards have dominated the opposition this year. McCaw expects a huge battle upfront.

"The Sharks have a pretty big forward pack and that’s where they like to get on top and we need to be up for it." Deans explains further, "They are a side that is physical, they have a very good scrum. If you allow them to play their game, they’ll attack you where they choose.

"You have to meet them upfront. If you don’t, you’ll be left hanging in the wind. The Waratahs were able to get into the game, the Sharks are unlikely to be suppressed again I would suggest."

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